There’s this thing that happens at my shows. Maybe it happens to all of us that do this for a living, I don’t know. I should take an informal poll.
But people, when they’re browsing and we’re talking about the work, start talking about their lives. Not just “Hi, I’m a banker” but like, intimate, painful experiences. Their current troubles, their lost loved ones, divorces, alcoholic partners, abortions. They open right up like split pomegranates and hand you all these blood red seeds from their inside parts.
Last night a woman told me about her son who died of cancer, and how she’s coping with an autoimmune diagnosis that’s left her unable to work and how worried she is that her retirement won’t last her. Another told me she was a hospital chaplain, and talked about her work with the dying, and the loved ones of the dying, and how she felt her calling was to be a guide in these transitional places in life. This is just this last show. People do this all the time. It’s most often women, who, I think, are more apt to share themselves emotionally than men, but I’ve had guys unburden themselves to me as well. Generally women talk about their pain, and men talk about their love like it’s a secret they don’t want to admit to their dude bros, but my tent is a safe place to smile that soft smile when they say their partner’s name.
I don’t know why people do this. Is it art, talking about art, which so often revolves around the artists internal life and emotional experiences? Is it the personalities of creative people, because they tend to come off as open minded? Is it just me? Do I somehow create a space that feels safe and non-judgemental, so they feel it’s ok to pierce that bubble of strangerness and be whoever they are at that moment, feeling whatever they’re feeling openly?
Artists? You wanna weigh in here? Yoga teachers? Dancers? Is it a visual arts thing? I’d love to know your experiences.
It’s incredibly humbling. I feel like I need to honor this, whatever it is.
And they’re inclined to give me a hug or say thank you on their way out. Like I’ve done them a favor. And maybe I have. Maybe listening is a favor. Most people don’t really listen, they wait for their turn to speak, which are very different things.
My own experience with life’s difficulties tells me that mostly, people don’t want to hear about your shit. No matter how big an impact it has on you personally. And I get that to an extent. Everyone has their own troubles, and there are definitely vampires out there who seem to manufacture drama for dramas sake. But I think there’s sort of a culture of “I’m fine!” that’s grown up around us that makes it really hard to connect.
As someone with both major depressive and generalized anxiety disorder, I have a surplus of feels, and my whole life I’ve been made to feel as if my emotions are very inconvenient to other people. Which, to be honest, sucks. There isn’t much I can do about my chemical imbalances. I can’t help being worried all the time or so sad I can’t leave my house. It can be really alienating when people dismiss your feels, or treat them as if they’re not that big a deal. It’s challenging to open up to anyone after a lifetime of this. You assume they don’t want to hear it. Instead you become the life of the party and cry in corners and bathrooms and private places so nobody is inconvenienced by your issues.
To an extent, you should absolutely take responsibility for your own shit and not count on others to bear you up in your daily struggles with whatever your life has handed you in the way of challenges. But there’s a limit to an individual’s ability to go it alone, I think. We need each other. It’s cathartic to be open with people, and I don’t think people get that often enough in our current society. I think we’re too casual, too surface-y. Even though we’re really not. We’re really messy and complicated, but for some reason it’s not cool to seem that way.
And here’s me, a tattooed gal in a flowery hat and black lace babbling about transitions and the unconscious and bird mythology. Maybe they figure I’m into weird shit so there’s no way I’m going to think they’re weird just for being sad. Just for having a hard time with life. Maybe that’s why they hand me their private stash of pomegranate seeds with such regularity.
And? I don’t think you’re weird at all. I think you’re beautiful and complicated and normal. I think your emotions are yours and they’re valid. I think you’re strong enough to get through it. You ARE safe in my tent.